The NBA Draft Lottery is an amazing phenomenon. In a sports landscape increasingly dominated by events that happen outside the field of play, the lottery is the juiciest of the juicy Nothingburgers.
At least as we track free agency, actual players change teams. At least when we cover drafts, actual players get picked. At least when covering the latest trouble or triumph from an athlete’s personal life, something has happened.
With the NBA Draft Lottery, we’re not even finding out what players teams get. We’re finding out what order they are going to be picked. And we can’t get enough! The only thing approaching this level of nothingness is the annual release of schedules by leagues (predominantly speaking of the NFL here). We already know the teams. But what about the order of the games! WE MUST KNOW and we must have a long TV special to break it down.
This is not a criticism, really — just an observation. Teams are in the business these days of selling hope as much as they are winning games, and events like the lottery fit right into that mindset. Tell me you’re not suddenly more interested in the Wolves, even a little bit, now that they have the No. 1 pick (even though they only won 16 games last year and might be bad again next year). And tell me you didn’t pay attention, even a little bit, to the lottery and coverage leading up to it.
As such, I’m a little shocked that the NFL hasn’t gone to a draft lottery system. As big as the NBA Draft is, the NFL Draft dwarfs it. Combine that with the fact that the NFL has become the king of the 12-month news calendar, keeping fans glued to the game even in off months, and the fact that the league hasn’t wedged a lottery component into the schedule in, say, late March or early April is quite astonishing.
Can you imagine how much fun a lottery would be in a league where a full 20 teams don’t make the playoffs? Can you imagine if the Vikings, who picked 11th in the 2015 draft, would have had even a marginal chance of vaulting several places up — perhaps even to No. 1 overall?
You can’t tell me that some sort of lottery system, similar in some ways to the NBA, wouldn’t be wildly popular in the NFL. To make it more fair, I’d say football should give the worst teams better odds than the NBA does, but even something like this would instantly captivate fan bases from 20 teams:
*All 20 teams who miss the playoffs have a shot at moving up, but you can only move up into the top five.
*Teams 16-20 have roughly a 2 percent chance of moving up into the top five each (10 percent total), while 11-15 are around 3 percent (15 percent total) and 6-10 are around 4 percent each (20 percent total). So every year, there would be about a 45 percent chance that a team outside of the top five in terms of order of finish moved into the top five. Within the 1-5 finishers, it would of course be weighted in favor of the worst team. Maybe they would have a 50 percent chance of keeping the top pick and so on.
In any event, the math at this point isn’t important. It could be done, and it would be bonkers.
Vikings kicker Blair Walsh knew that change was inevitable this time a year ago when the NFL announced that it would experiment with the placement of the ball for extra points after touchdowns. That change came yesterday, when league owners voted to move extra points back 13 yards to the 15-yard line.
“I don’t think they would have put it in last preseason unless they were serious about changing it,” Walsh said last night in a phone interview. “You could see the writing on the wall. But I’m glad they didn’t eliminate it.”
Some kickers aren’t thrilled that they will now have to try to nail their point after touchdowns (PATs) from 33 yards out. But Walsh, who penned this piece on the looming change last offseason, is embracing the challenge.
“Absolutely,” Walsh said. “You’ve got to be confident in what you do. If somebody was telling you, ‘Hey, we’re going to make your job just a little bit more important,’ why wouldn’t you take it? It’s a new challenge.”
In the first two weeks of the 2014 preseason, when the NFL tried out the proposed PAT rule, Walsh made all four of his extra points from 33 yards.
In the regular season, Walsh made eight of 10 attempts from 30-39 yards.
Because extra points will be, as he put it, “no longer straight automatic,” Walsh said he will have to prepare a little bit more for them.
Previously, Walsh might have kicked one or two standard 20-yard extra points throughout one week of practice. Now he believes he will need to kick at least a couple of 33-yarders in every one of his live kicking sessions.
“You just have to practice the situation a little more,” he said. “You’ll have to really focus and pay attention to all the small details to be successful.”
Over the past 24 hours, there has been a lot of talk amongst media, fans and number-crunchers about how the new rule could affect game strategy. The statheads say that the smarter statistical option is now going for two points from two yards out, and some folks wonder if teams will consider adding “two-point specialist” quarterbacks who are goal-line running threats.
So, Blair Walsh, here is a hypothetical for you: The Vikings score a late touchdown to pull within one point of the Packers. What’s the call? Walsh out for the 33-yard PAT? Or are you going for two with Adrian Peterson?
“I think the way you have to look at it is, what would you have done last year? You would kick the extra point,” said Walsh, who was an All-Pro in 2012. “I think that adding 13 yards to the kick shouldn’t really make you not trust your kicker at that point. So I think you have to kick it and play for overtime. You don’t want to lose it on a two-point conversion.”
Spoken like a true kicker — but one who isn’t sweating an extra 13 yards.
Well, Wolves fans: you can finally lay to rest the NBA Draft Lottery conspiracy theories (and yes, when I wrote about them the other day, I got a friendly reminder from the league’s communications office that they take this business very seriously).
No league in its right mind would rig a lottery to give the Wolves the top pick, but that is exactly the pick Minnesota earned last night. It does not matter that No. 1 was the slot the Wolves were in based on record. This is a massive victory. No doubt about it. The reaction from Wolves fans was a mixture of excitement and shock. Here are some of the best tweets I saw:
WHAT IS HAPPENING!!!! WE WON THE #NBADraftLottery #TWOLVES #TWolvesArmy #changeinfortunes #EyesOnTheRise
— Tom Lodge (@LittleTLodge) May 20, 2015
Miracles do happen #Twolves
— Minnesportfan (@Minnesportfan) May 20, 2015
Oh, for sure we’ll take that #1 pick! #TWolves
— Jadyn Holm (@SunshineGrev) May 20, 2015
I woke up this morning and checked the internet right away to confirm the #Twolves still won the lottery!! It wasn’t a dream after all.
— Eric Hanna (@ehanna14) May 20, 2015
Thank you ping-pong ball gods. Tonight, I go to bed happy. #TWolves
— Grant Bosiacki (@GBos2) May 20, 2015
Hold it – why would the NBA conspire to give the #Twolves the 1st pick over the #Lakers? Or did someone mess up?
— John Bonnes (@TwinsGeek) May 20, 2015
#Twins win tonight and are 22-17. #Twolves get No. 1 pick. #Vikings are dark horse to make playoffs. If hope was currency, MN would be rich.
— Matthew Stensrud (@MattStensrud) May 20, 2015
Anyone know who I need to contact for mapping out a parade route in Minneapolis? Asking for a friend. #NBADraftLottery #Twolves
— Josh Benjamin (@Jbenjamin81) May 20, 2015